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I used to be a normal kid before the accident. At least as normal as a kid with genius parents can be. Our basement housed the laboratory. To a kid like me, it was a wonderland of knobs and dials, a spaceship filled with the possibilities of imagination, a magical place where anything could happen. Of course I had been warned since infancy not to touch anything. So naturally I only played down there when they were away.
Mom was a physicist and Dad was both an electrical engineer and an historian. They both taught at the local University, but when they were home, they spent their time in the basement lab. They were working on what Mom called “transmutation” and Dad called the quest for the “Philosopher’s Stone”. They were trying to turn stuff into other stuff through the use of an ion laser and microwaves. “Disassembling the atoms,” Mom said, “and re-assembling them differently.”
They had been working on it for years. they called it their project. I didn’t think it was going too well, they always seemed to be arguing. Dad said they weren’t doing it for the money but I heard a lot of talk about gold at the dinner table. I think that they’d be pretty happy to turn a pile of lead into gold and not have to go to work anymore.
If I asked Mom what she was doing, she would try and explain atomic theory to me and my mind would wander. When I asked Dad he’d tell me stories about the Emerald Tablet, the water of life, alchemy, and the philosopher’s stone. I liked dad’s stories better. Dad could hold me spellbound with tales of the ancient quest for the true understanding of matter. he told me that alchemists believed that everything was made up of only four elements—Earth, water, fire, and air— and that, if you could control those four things, you could make anything into anything else. He said that this knowledge was the true Philosopher’s Stone. It wasn’t a stone at all.
I remember doing a science report on the Emerald Tablet. I explained that it was one of the earliest pieces of scientific writings tracing its origins to Aristotle and ancient Greece and how some people believe it contained the actual instructions for making a philosopher’s stone. No less a scientist than Isaac Newton believed that it was a coded formula. The teacher gave me an “F” on the report saying that, “magic and mumbo jumbo had no place in real science.” I showed my report to my Dad. He laughed and said, “That just shows you how little he knows.” Then he took a pen and crossed out the “F” and replaced it with an “A”. “There, how’s that for transmutation?” he said. It sure made me feel a lot better.
Mom and dad would get home from work and immediately go into the basement to work on their project. They didn’t spend a lot of time with me and I’m sure if they had it to do over again, they would do it differently. Everything is clearer in hindsight. I guess that’s why they call it that.
I remember it was my eleventh birthday. We were sitting around the table having supper when I announced that I was eleven. They both froze. There was an embarrassed silence followed by some frantic activity. Mom produced a stale muffin with a candle in it and dad handed me a hastily wrapped present. They sang happy birthday overly loud to cover their guilty consciences. I really wasn’t hurt or disappointed. That’s just how they were, totally absorbed in their work.
In those days I spent a lot of time with my best friend Jeremy Schmidt who was my age and lived a couple of doors down the street. I’m sure I spent more time with Jeremy’s family than I did my own. One of our favorite games was called Mad Scientist. We’d sneak into the lab and play at either saving the world or destroying it depending on our mood.
It was on a quiet Spring day, I remember. Jeremy and I were home from school for some reason and feeling a little bored. One of us, jeremy I think, suggested playing Mad Scientist. The folks wouldn’t be home for several hours yet so we slipped into the lab and began the game.
“The Vogons have entered the solar system,” called Jeremy, “Your neutralizer cannon is our only hope, Professor.”
“Prepare the death ray, commander,” I said.
We must have been feeling rambunctious that afternoon because the next thing I remember us doing was turning knobs and flipping switches, a definite no no. If we broke anything, Mom would kill me. But we were just kids and we were caught up in our game. Jeremy made a few adjustments while I grabbed the handles of the ion laser and pointed it at the window.
“Prepare to fire,” Jeremy called. Then, “Fire.”
I pushed the button on the laser. It hummed slightly but the great energy pulse that was supposed to bring down the Vogon ship utterly failed to appear. Disappointed I waved my left hand in front of the invisible beam. I could feel a slight burning tingling sensation but nothing else so I substituted a good death ray noise for lack of the real thing. The Vogon menace destroyed, we laughed and tried to return the lab to its original state.
I knew something was wrong as soon as I turned the dial back to where I thought it had been before our game. When I touched the dial with my left hand, it glowed with a blue light and turned to a gooey liquid. “Oh shit. Mom’s going to kill me.”
“What’s the matter?” asked Jeremy. He came over to see the melted knob. “How did you do that?”
“I just touched it.”
“Touch something else,” he said.
So I touched him. There was the blue glow and Jeremy simply melted into a slimy puddle on the floor.
Since that day I have had no peace, and no happiness. I inadvertently melted my parents and several other people before the authorities figured out a way to contain me. The government has classified me as a secret weapon and has spent millions trying to repeat the accident. It seems like my “Midas” touch can transmute all but a few plastic compounds. I can’t quite turn lead into gold but I can turn it into goo which intrigues everyone but does no one any good.
It has been ten years now. I spend my days in a room made of a tupperware-like plastic which seems inert to my condition. My left hand is encased in a large clumsy glove of the same material. I am utterly alone and miserable. My room is in a military facility, secret even to me. I am studied and prodded, analyzed and experimented upon. I am not permitted any contact with anyone other than the researchers. This they tell me this is to be my fate until I am either cured or I die. I would very much like to die.
For some unknown reason I cannot transmute myself. If I could, I would. Sometimes I think of how naive my parents and those ancient alchemists were thinking that the philosopher’s stone would bring them knowledge, wealth and understanding. It has brought me nothing but loneliness, poverty and pain. It wouldn’t matter if I could turn lead into gold or aluminum into zinc I wouldn’t be any happier. If I could turn time around and go back to when I was eleven I would do it in a heart beat. Mom and Dad, Jeremy, friends, and home, those are the real treasures. All the rest is dross.
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